This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Posts tagged ‘hope’

The Old Paths: The Right Thing to Do

**This was originally published on Thursday, August 8, 2013, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

do the right thing
“It may not be the RIGHT thing to do, but it’s the THING to do,” said my hubster after a particularly tense baseball game.

“But if it isn’t the right thing to do, then isn’t it the wrong thing to do?” I asked, trying to understand the logic of situational ethics.

The situation in question had occurred when an opposing pitcher in our men’s baseball league had purposely hit one of our players. Since the hit batsman happened to be our ace pitcher, our team’s strategy was that HE would hit THEIR pitcher next time he was up to bat.

I disagreed with the strategy, arguing that it was antiChristian. The hubster informed me that baseball was different—that such “eye for an eye” behavior was expected in a fiercely competitive atmosphere.

So good ethics for daily living are discarded on the field of play? Really?

This ethics morass in baseball troubles me. Yes, this game which I so love is indeed a competition where the best man/team wins, but must we incorporate dirty play? Must we bean them with a pitch after they bean us? Must we take performance-enhancing drugs to make us more successful? Have we lost some of the beauty and joy of America’s grand old game?

no right way to do wrong thing

Then I was reminded of something that happened in that tension-filled ballgame when even I—mild-mannered Leslie—stood up from the bleachers and cried, “Let’s just all go home. We don’t have to play under these conditions!” (The ump had just unfairly removed one of our players after accusing him of doing something he truly didn’t do.)

Shortly after the explosive situation on the field, a Hispanic boy—maybe 14—wandered up to the bleachers with his mother in tow. She did not speak English. They sat right beside me although the bleachers were fairly empty. At first, that irritated me.

Then he began talking to me, which normally irritates me as well in the middle of an action-packed game. But his face was so cherubic and innocent and his voice so polite and kind that I was quickly won over.

“Is your team the blue team?” he asked with a sweet smile. As I nodded yes, he declared, “Then I’m pulling for them, too!”

Then in a tone of awed wonder, “Are they a professional team?” I laughingly assured him they were not.

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My hubster batting at that field in High Point.

My heart melted even more as the boy kept explaining the game to his clueless mother with a respectful, loving tone. I understand Spanish fairly well and tried not to chuckle at his somewhat muddled explanations.

I asked him if he watched baseball on TV. He said sometimes. I told him I liked the Yankees. He got excited and said that was the team that played football in New Jersey, wasn’t it? I hid a smile as I explained to him that the Yankees were a baseball team in New York.

He obviously did not understand the rules of baseball very well, so I explained some fundamental ones to him so that he could, in turn, teach his mother. His mistakes were cute ones a much younger child might make, yet this teenager was so humble that no embarrassment entered into his realization that he had a lot to learn.

Suddenly I was seeing this tired old game with new eyes—like someone watching it for the first time and finding great joy in it. I was a little girl again, watching MLB with my dad as he explained the game to me.

innocence of a child

Then a fan nearby yelled something in a mean tone to the umpire. The fan’s cohort loudly echoed the ugly sentiment. Puzzled, the boy turned to look at the angry fans. His face was truly troubled—pained, even.

I felt horribly embarrassed. It was as if we had besmeared something innocent, as if we had poured black grease onto a solid white robe.

I apologized to the boy and explained to him that we had had some unfair officiating earlier. He smiled kindly and tried to understand. But I was ashamed—ashamed of my previous fit of temper and ashamed of the continued loudmouthed heckling by others.

Before long, the boy turned to me with his humble demeanor and thanked me for talking with him. His dark eyes were alight as he wished our team the best. “Maybe I’ll come back some time, and you guys will be playing again!” he said, as if it were the deepest desire of his heart.

As they stood to go, his mother nodded to me and tried to convey her appreciation in broken and heavily-accented English. She finally just stopped and haltingly said “Thank you” with an appreciative smile.

As he walked away, the boy turned back with a smile of pure joy and waved to me. Although I have returned many times to that field in High Point, I have never seen him again. I don’t even know his name. But I will never forget him. His behavior was so “unearthly” that I have even questioned if he was a real person or if I was entertaining an angel unawares, as the Good Book says we will sometimes do.

Later, as my hubster insisted that intentionally hitting a batter “may not be the right thing to do, but it’s the thing to do,” I felt led to tell him the story of the innocent boy and his joy in watching that game. In the telling of the story, my voice unexpectedly broke, and my eyes filled with tears. My hubster’s eyes also got suspiciously moist as he shook his head and said, “I was wrong. The right thing to do is ALWAYS the right thing to do.”

Sometimes it takes an innocent child to turn us back to the old paths of what is good and pure.

right time--right thing--mlk

The Old Paths: I Miss Mayberry

**This was originally published on Thursday, July 12, 2012, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog. I had blogged about this subject in July 2012, using some of the material from this column. However, much had been changed during the transition from the column to the blog, so I am now blogging the original newspaper column to preserve it for history’s sake.**

Andy in HeavenSummer always puts me in a nostalgic mood. (Yes, I know—I’m ALWAYS in a nostalgic mood but even moreso in summer.) I think it’s the fact that summer takes me back to the old paths of my childhood when days were longer, lazier and brighter somehow.

My childhood was the era of “The Andy Griffith Show,” long summer breaks from school, working hard but laughing a lot in the tobacco field, making homemade ice cream down in Grandpa Bray’s yard, listening to Uncle Sam pick the guitar while my daddy and his brothers sang “Uncle Pen” or “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog.”

It was Sunday afternoons under the shady old oaks while relatives sat in lawn chairs and talked about the weather, their ‘baccer, what all they had put up for the winter. It was swimming in the creek to stay cool on hot July days. It was  playing in the woods with the cousins ‘til Mama called us in.

Me swimming with cousins.jpg

I’m the littlest girl, wading in the creek….long, long ago…..

Those days are long gone. Summer vacation ends earlier in August now, I haven’t touched a tobacco leaf in a lot of years, Pa Bray is dead and the extended family only gets together down at his old farm a couple of times a year. Nobody has time to sit in the yard on Sundays—too many ballgames or practices. Indoor air conditioning has long replaced creeks as the cooling method of choice, and there are too many crazy people in the world today to let your kids hang out in the woods all day.

There is really only one constant still left from my childhood days—The Andy Griffith Show. I can turn on the TV every day at 5:30 p.m. and see faces from my childhood—Ange, Barn, Thelma Lou, Aunt Bee, Opie. That show aired years before I was even born and probably has been on the air somewhere every year since.andy, barney, gomer.png

When I watch it, modern life ceases for me. I retreat to a black-and-white world where Barney advises me to “Nip it in the bud!”, Andy strums the guitar on the front porch, Opie shares his heart with “Paw” and Aunt Bee keeps them all well-fed.

But it isn’t all sunshine and flowers. Barney sometimes sneaks off to call Juanita down at the diner while poor Thelma Lou sits at home. Opie tells occasional lies and has to confess to Andy. Aunt Bee’s pickles taste like kerosene and sometimes she can’t seem to beat Clara Edwards at anything. Ernest T. Bass is ever chunking rocks through windows while Otis just keeps getting drunk.

Even the paradise of the fictional Mayberry has its occasional thorns—just like real life.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched old clips of Andy Griffith on YouTube and even posted a short one on my Facebook page. It was the familiar scene—Andy with his guitar on the porch with Barney by his side. Andy was singing “The Church in the Wildwood” with Barney adding the harmony.

The episode was called “Man in a Hurry.” The contrast was marked—Andy and Barney peacefully singing, Barney stretching lazily and saying, “Well, I think I’ll go home, take me a nap then head on over to Thelma Lou’s to watch some TV” (emphasis on the “T”), while the man in a hurry paced back and forth.

That same theme is often on my mind: how can we modern folks with cell phones, social networking, email, video games and more TV channels than you can shake a stick at slow down our lives to savor the simple things we recall from childhood?

…..Like catching lightning bugs and putting them in pop bottles instead of playing the Xbox. Sitting on the porch while the moon rises instead of watching “Criminal Minds.” Playing the piano for the family to gather ’round to sing instead of viewing the latest music videos on YouTube.

Truth be told, I’m too busy to do any of that.

I miss mayberry words.jpg

But “The Andy Griffith Show” reminds me that life was probably better when we had the time, or rather TOOK the time, to do these things. Andy was a busy sheriff on call 24/7, but he managed to take Opie down to the fishing hole. (Whether or not they whistled while they walked is undetermined!) Sometimes he and Helen Crump spread a blanket on the grass and enjoyed a picnic.

There was a sense of community that few of us still experience. Neighbors visited. Men gathered down at Floyd’s to talk. Goober and Gomer were never too busy down at the garage to lend a helping hand.

“Wake up, Leslie! It’s a fictional town on a TV show!” you may say.

Is it? I seem to remember living a similar life when I was a kid. We had a community club where the neighbors had Rook tournaments and potluck dinners. Mama invited ladies over to quilt. The Bray cousins and I would wander through pastures, climb cherry trees, swim in Belews Creek before the lake existed.

So maybe that’s why we still watch a show created in 1960—a show with no real relevance now in many ways, a show that belongs to the days of yesteryear…..because it reminds us of so much that was good and that we wish could be again. And because the true values of the human heart haven’t changed much at all since 1960—love for family and friends, a need to be part of something meaningful, a yearning for simplicity.

i miss mayberry chorus

Imagine my shock when I had been pondering these Mayberry-esque issues of life and then heard that Andy Griffith had passed away. It seemed unreal. How could Sheriff Taylor be gone? Shouldn’t Ange have lived to at least 120?

Before I knew it, I was unexpectedly bawling like a baby. I had had no idea Andy Griffith’s death could possibly make me cry.

But you know why I think it did? Not just because I loved Andy. But also because it seemed to be the end of an era. There had not been a minute of my life that Andy wasn’t figuratively sheriff of Mayberry.

Losing Barney, Aunt Bee and most recently Goober was sad, but losing Andy—the figurehead of the show—is much tougher. It somehow makes the Mayberry world he created retreat even farther into the shrouds of the past. It makes me feel more detached from childhood.

It’s been a long time since I really was a child, but “The Andy Griffith Show” makes me feel that young again. I’ll keep watching it as long as it’s in syndication. And I’ll remember…..and I’ll treasure it…..and I’ll keep wishing I could make my life that simple again.

I miss Mayberry.

andy and opie walking

“They Shall Rise Up In The Land”

KKK robe
Have you ever had a nightmare or a scary experience while you sleep? I believe some things that happen in the night are simply the result of too many tacos before bed. However, there are other experiences that are direct attacks from the enemy (satan and his demonic henchmen) who try to hit us under cover of darkness when we are in our most vulnerable state. THAT is the kind of attack I am about to relate to you……

The year was 1999. I have no memory of what went on that long-ago day or that evening before bed. My first recollections begin when I was engulfed in the following dream……

I was in my den during the daytime, pacing the floor, troubled by something. My dear friend, Vicki, was sitting in the floor with her back against the couch, flipping through a book on the coffee table. All of a sudden, I gasped and cried out, “I remember what I dreamed last night!”

Vicki stiffened and abruptly quit turning pages. “You don’t even have to tell me!” she said, in mournful tones. “You dreamed of a man made of ice.” Terror gripped me as she indeed had revealed exactly what I had dreamed; somehow the “Iceman” seemed absolutely and insidiously evil.

Immediately upon Vicki saying that, I woke up (or so I thought). It truly was nighttime, and I was in my bed. Suddenly I heard Vicki prophesying loudly as she walked up and down in my narrow hallway, “They shall rise up in the land! They shall rise up in the land!”—over and over again repeating that phrase.

I remember thinking, “If she doesn’t hold it down, she’s going to wake my babies!” My daughter Abigail was still in her crib, with my son Elijah in a toddler bed at the foot of her crib.

Then came the horror. Into my bedroom—not from the bathroom door, but from the door that opened up into the hall where Vicki was prophesying—walked a hooded figure in a white KKK robe. The pure evil he exuded began to stifle me. He walked by the foot of the bed, ignoring my husband on the closer side of the bed to the door, and approached me. As he did, I became more and more panicked and suddenly realized I was paralyzed.

I had had that feeling of paralysis during sleep before; you try as hard as you can to utter even a word, but you struggle and can only speak in slow motion, if at all. The only times I have experienced this, though, are when I am dreaming of a demonic attack against me……same thing in this case.

As the Klansman rounded the corner of the bed and came closer to me, I began to try to pray aloud. I strained against the paralysis, only able to moan rather than speak clearly what I wanted to: “JESUS! IN THE NAME OF JESUS!” Still, I kept struggling to get out those words, knowing that the name of Jesus was the power that would make this demon flee.

The evil apparition stopped directly beside me and simply looked down at me. I don’t remember the look of his eyes through the slits in the pointed hood. I just remember the hatred that oozed out of him toward me. Without words from him, I could absolutely sense that he was spewing out a caustic and total hatred and desire for vengeance toward me. He wanted to harm me, he wanted to destroy me…..but he knew he was not allowed to, which made him even more furious.

It was then that I saw my husband rise up to lean on his left elbow and stare down at me. He just kept looking at my face, while I wondered why he didn’t do something. Inside I was crying out, “Don’t just lie there! Wake me up! Pray against this demon standing beside me!”

After a while, he finally nudged me and said, “Leslie, Leslie, wake up!” It was only then that I could move and speak. Immediately the Klansman disappeared.

“Why did you wait so long to wake me up?!!” I cried.

His face looked surprised as he asked, “How did you know I waited?”

“I SAW you just leaning there, looking at me!”

“How did you see that? Your eyes were closed.”

I shook my head, puzzled. “I don’t know how I saw it, but I did. I was awake in another dimension and could see everything going on—even you staring at me, trying to decide what was wrong with me.”

“What on earth was going on?” he asked.

Terror still sending chills up and down my body, I shook my head again. “I can’t talk about it now. I’ll tell you in the morning.”

When morning’s light indeed came and I told him what had happened, he gasped and interjected: “I had a dream last night of several of us looking at a map or some kind of paper in critical times, and we heard a voice say, ‘You’ll know the enemy when you see him. His name rhymes with ‘Iceman.'”

Well, as you can imagine, that’s all it took to nearly make my hair stand on end!

For the next year, I’d periodically think about “Iceman” or “a man made of ice,” and I’d wonder about the connection with “They shall rise up in the land!” and the KKK demon visitor. My instinct was that “They shall rise up in the land” had to do with civil unrest somehow—stemming from issues involving race. But at that time, there were no major news stories dealing with racial issues, despite the ever-present specter of racism.

That was the very year—1999—that I finally began hosting prayer meetings in my den for revival in my hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C. I knew the dreams and visions of local revival that God had given me since early 1996 were calling me to intercede for my town. One dream, in particular, that stood out was of an incomplete circle of people standing at what seemed to be my old junior high (now Southeastern Stokes Middle School). The people were primarily black, but there were a few white people scattered here and there. I was directed of God to walk down a hill and join hands with those people. When I did, the circle was complete, and a steeple began to rise into the air in the middle of our circle.

I remember thinking, “What’s up with this? Am I supposed to go witness to all of my junior high friends? What does this mean?” I didn’t know, but I knew the racial contrast in the dream was key.

So people—black and white—began to meet in my den every week, praying/interceding for revival in Walnut Cove. And I heard God direct me to hold a community tent revival in the downtown area.

The story of how He worked out that tent revival in the year 2000 is an amazing one, but not the subject of this blog. The pertinent story began on the day we began to raise the huge tent on a vacant lot beside East Stokes Outreach Ministry in downtown Walnut Cove. As the men labored in the August sun to erect the massive cover, an older black man named Henry Gibson—known locally as “PeeWee”—came limping across the property, on his way back from the store.

Suddenly, PeeWee stopped, leaning on his cane, staring solemnly at the workers. I approached him to say hi and then noticed the tears welling up in his eyes. “Are you okay?” I asked with concern for this man that I liked so much.

“Yes, ma’am,” he kindly replied. Then he shook his head as if in disbelief and continued to speak quietly, “But I just can’t believe it! Black men and white men working together here to put up this tent!”

I was puzzled. “Yes, sir. The church I go to in Winston-Salem is multiracial.” I didn’t see why that was such a big deal in the 21st century.

I guess my voice relayed my questioning, because PeeWee suddenly turned his eyes from the tent workers to focus intently on me. “But, Miss Leslie, don’t you understand what that means on this land? On THIS property?”

I shook my head, “What’s so special about this property?”

He asked in amazement, “You don’t know?” As I again shook my head, he continued, “This is the vacant lot where the KKK used to burn their crosses to keep us black folk in line…..back when I was very young.”

His eyes took on a faraway look, and I knew he was not with me anymore. He was in the 1950’s and early ’60’s. “Yep,” he sighed. “This was the place those crosses burned. It wasn’t often—just every now and then when they wanted to make sure we knew our place.”

Then his eyes rejoined the present as he turned again to the tent workers. “So this means something, Miss Leslie. Seeing black and white men work together on THIS land to put up this tent to bring revival—it MEANS something!” His tears spilled out of his eyes onto his cheeks, and my own eyes were suspiciously moist as well.

racial reconciliation

PeeWee’s story—one I had never heard—stayed at the forefront of my mind for the rest of that steamy summer morning. As I drove home in the late afternoon to rest, I still pondered the divine justice of how God had worked it out to let that vacant lot be the only one we could find for the tent revival that was designed to bring glory to God by uniting all races and cultures in our little Southern town.

When I arrived at home, my answering machine was blinking. I pressed the button and heard an unfamiliar female voice. She sounded angry—almost threatening—as she insisted I call her back. I did not recognize her name, but her tone let me know I better check to see what was going on.

So I returned her call, noting that the last four digits of her number were the exact same as those of my dear friend Tracey in Winston-Salem. This lady’s number, however, started with “591” rather than Tracey’s “784.” (I still remember the final digits but won’t repeat them, in case the lady is still at that number. I still have her name written down as well—16 years later.)

She answered the phone and was immediately belligerent, demanding to know why I had called her house earlier in the afternoon. Startled, I began to protest, “Ma’am, I have been gone all day. I certainly did not call your house from this number or any number!”

“Yes, you did!” she nearly screamed. “It showed up on my caller ID!”

“But I couldn’t have called you when I wasn’t home! The only thing I can figure is that perhaps my husband was calling our friends in Winston-Salem who have the same exact number except for the first three digits. And he probably just forgot and automatically dialed our local ‘591’ first,” I kept telling her, wondering why she was so irate. I soon found out.

“Well, when I saw your address was ‘Pine Hall Road,’ I began to be afraid,” she finally confessed, beginning to calm down. “You see, my ex-boyfriend lives on Pine Hall Road, and I don’t want anything to do with him.”

“Oh!” I replied, finally comprehending. “I see—you thought maybe he was calling you from a neighbor’s or something.”

“Yeah,” she shared, her anger dissipating. “And to be honest, I am scared of him. He is stalking me, and he can be dangerous. You just don’t mess with Iceman.”

My blood felt as though it lost several degrees of warmth as goosebumps rose up on my arms. “Did you say Iceman?”

“Yeah, you ever heard of him? That’s my boyfriend. He was the first to bring crystal meth into Walnut Cove, so they started calling him Iceman. He’s a drug dealer.”

In my astonishment, it was all I could do to finish talking to this lady, but as I did, I was furiously writing down what she was telling me about Iceman—what kind of car he drove, his real name, and more. I had never heard of him, but I didn’t think it was an accident that all of this had happened on the very same day I was told of long-ago KKK activity in Walnut Cove. My mind was racing back to the year before—when I had dreamed of “Iceman,” followed by a demonic Klansman tormenting me in the night.

I never spoke with that lady again, but I never forgot the “too-much-to-be-coincidence” quality of that August day.

That was 16 years ago, and only periodically does the subject of my dream and demonic encounter come up—primarily just between my children and me. But it resurfaced this past Wednesday night, July 6, 2016, as a deep prayer session ended at the church I now pastor in Walnut Cove—”The Well.” The only three people left praying were my two adult daughters and me.

I had heard God tell me of a demonic stronghold in Walnut Cove that was like a fungus—something that grows sometimes inconspicuously, but as it takes hold, it has one goal—to decompose anything it touches. It was revealed to me that such a fungal-type evil force has been allowed to spread unchecked through our town, decomposing even the very buildings that are allowed to sit and decay. (He revealed specifics about this to me, but I must protect the privacy of some individuals.)

As I told my girls what God had shown me, my daughter Meghann began to research fungi on her iPhone. She suddenly spoke out, “Scientist found two types of fungi on Otzi the Iceman!”

When she said, “Iceman,” my senses were alerted. My other daughter Chelsea cried out, “Remember when I felt led to study Otzi the Iceman a few years ago because I kept feeling something about Mom’s ‘Iceman’ dream that was never resolved?!”

I did indeed remember. Otzi is a 5,300-year-old mummy found frozen in the Austrian Alps; literally, he has nothing to do with anything we are praying about. Figuratively, he does—even if it is just in the timing of when a mention of him “pops up.” That the mention of “Iceman” would surface again on this night of deep intercessory prayer when God had just revealed a major cause of the prior decomposition of Walnut Cove was uncanny……especially when this entire week had been dedicated to a special service we were holding on Friday night, July 8. The guest speaker for that service was my childhood friend, Peggy Adams, a former Stokes County girl now living in Tennessee, who is a powerful intercessor in the Kingdom of God.

When Peggy came for the first time in April 2016, she told us that God had given her three words for our direction/mission in Walnut Cove: reconciliation, redemption, restoration. She said reconciliation primarily means reconciling the races in our town—that some sort of reconciliatory healing needs to take place. I nodded in agreement because I have known since the circle dream long ago that one of my primary callings in Walnut Cove is to help with that racial reconciliation.

racial reconciliation 2

That is why the devil would like to torment me. That is why a demonic Klansman stood over my bed and hated me—wanted to destroy me. But the enemy cannot have his way with God’s people; nor can he stop God’s plan for racial reconciliation to take place in Walnut Cove.

Our nation is in turmoil today. Videos of black men being shot and killed by white police officers are making the rounds online. News bulletins are flying through cyberspace and across TV screens, telling the latest in the deadly, retaliatory murders of police officers in Dallas, TX. Facebook and other forms of social media are alight with hurt, anger, outrage and often even hatred.

Yes, I hate injustice and am saddened/shocked/angered by these murders. But I also recognize the enemy’s tactics to divide us as a nation right now, in particular. And I urge Christians everywhere not to be a part of this division. Yes, stand up for what is right—absolutely! I am standing in agreement with you for that! Wrong is wrong and should be justly punished.

praying at crossBut even so, we Christians are called to do everything we do—even protesting and crying out for justice—with God’s grace. And we need to recognize that rather than getting embroiled in the multitudes of arguments out there, the most helpful and powerful thing we can do right now is pray—and not just some quick “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer either, but rather a deep prayer for our country and its people. Couple that prayer with fasting, as Jesus said, and you will more easily be able to tear down the demonic strongholds of racism, prejudice, injustice and hatred.

“They shall rise up in the land!” Yes, that is happening even as I type. But when the enemy’s minions rise up to divide and conquer, and when we allow our hurt and emotions to make us rise up in bitterness and hatred, let’s remember how to turn this thing around. That will happen when God’s warriors RISE UP in the Spirit and in truth and say, “No more! God, send us a fresh outpouring of Your Spirit across this country! Lord, baptize us anew with the Holy Ghost AND with FIRE!!! We rise up, Jesus, in Your name to demand that satan and his demons back down before Your righteous and holy presence!”

He is looking for a people who will pray with that kind of authority and in the love of God.

“Who will go?” the Lord said.

Like the prophet Isaiah, may you and I join together to cry out, “Here am I, Lord! SEND ME!!”

here am i

The Old Paths: What about the children?

**This was originally published on Thursday, September 26, 2013, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

Little did I know in early September 2013 when I penned a newspaper column about time healing our hurts that our county would suffer several horrendous hurts that very week. I had used the example of Sonia Luster—the 16-year-old killed in an automobile accident on her way to North Stokes High School in 2008—noting that she died the day before the Stokes Stomp, our county’s signature festival.

NSHS--Dee Luster

Sonia Luster’s mom, Dee, at the North Stokes High School graduation the year that Sonia would have graduated—wearing a shirt with a picture of Sonia graduating from an earlier grade.

Imagine my horror at the 2013 Stokes Stomp when I heard the tragic news that three other Stokes County youth had just been killed in auto accidents—one the night after I wrote my column, two others the night before the Stomp. My heart felt like lead as I was told the heartbreaking details of the wrecks that affected every high school in the county.

One victim was a West Stokes High School student, another a South Stokes High student, another a recent graduate of Meadowbrook Academy in Stokes County. One driver, who survived but was charged with DWI and two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, had attended North Stokes High.

I had left the county fair in King on Wednesday just an hour or so before the first wreck occurred on nearby Meadowbrook Road. On Friday, I had left a prayer meeting in Walnut Cove just an hour before the second wreck; it happened on Highway 89—the very road I traveled to get home. Being so near the accidents, both in place and time, made me strangely affected, although I knew none of the victims.

Not knowing them didn’t matter anyway. Mothers lost sons those nights. I am a mother of two sons, so this was heart-wrenching to me.

What was also devastating was the fact that alcohol was involved in both accidents. One driver was of legal drinking age, the other was not. Legal or not, no one should drink and drive. Why is this a problem? And why does Stokes County have one of the highest rates of alcohol-related crashes in the state?

Years ago, I sat on a committee that had received a grant to study the high incidence of alcohol-influenced wrecks in the county. We spent hours searching for the root of the problem and how to resolve it. We even brought in teenagers to help. An initiative was launched to lower the number of these accidents.

And still they happen. Why?

There are many reasons: lack of fulfillment in people’s lives that leads to alcohol abuse, that youthful feeling of invincibility which results in the skewed thinking of “It can’t happen to me,” too little awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, etc.

One of the age groups most affected is youth ages 16 to 25. We can argue that we are not training up our children in the way they should go, that peer pressure to consume alcohol is strong, that irresponsible adults are purchasing alcohol for underage drinkers.

But I will also argue that there aren’t enough worthwhile activities for youth in Stokes County, especially on weekend nights. If you’re in King, it’s a little better; you are near Highway 52 which will take you in a flash to Winston-Salem where there are multiple things to do, such as bowling or going to the movies. In King itself, there may not be too much to do except eat at a restaurant that stays open late. The Stokes Family YMCA is located there, but it closes at 8 p.m. Friday night and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Late at night in Walnut Cove, you can go eat at a couple of restaurants. That’s about it. You can’t even do that in Danbury, Pine Hall, Lawsonville or Sandy Ridge.

There are those of us in Walnut Cove dedicated to helping local youth prosper through education, recreation, service, a move of God; we are lobbying for a recreational center in town. We argue that kids need a place to shoot basketball, have space for games/seminars/tutoring, watch movies, hold Christian youth rallies and functions.

There are not even any real parks for children. There is an outdoor public basketball court in the London community of Walnut Cove—not ideal late at night or in freezing weather. There is Fowler Park—a lovely place but one which has no bathrooms or playground equipment. What kid wants to just sit under the picnic shelter or walk around the short path? At Lions Park, there is some rather outdated playground equipment, but again, no bathrooms unless baseball games are going on nearby.

So if you are a young person in Walnut Cove on a weekend night, you can either hang out in the Food Lion parking lot or hang out in the Food Lion parking lot. And repeat.

How do we get what we need for the youth? Community involvement is a start. We need more people to care about this issue. Most adults either have children, will have children or have/will have grandchildren who need a place for wholesome recreation in town. So you SHOULD care.

Some of you have lots of money that you can’t take with you. (Yeah, I said it.) Some of you know where to find money/grants, even if you don’t have any money personally. Some of you have land that would be a perfect place to locate a rec center. Some of you have skills that could be used to construct and outfit such a place.

So what’s stopping us? I say we can have a place in Walnut Cove (and other towns) that will give our kids somewhere to go to do something constructive. Would you rather see your kids at the local rec center playing handball, basketball or Uno late on a Friday night or out on back roads drinking illegally and then driving around because there’s no place to go?

If you are willing to put your hand to the plow to make this happen, contact me; I will be glad to welcome you to the group that is pushing to provide something for our youth in this town. My heart is to bless the children. I know the Town of Walnut Cove needs revenue; that’s why the leaders push for businesses to come to Town. But can you imagine how blessed Walnut Cove would be if Town leaders would get behind the effort to bless the Town’s children? Revenue would follow, per God’s promise that if you seek first His Kingdom, everything else you need will be added.

We don’t need any more young people killed on our roads because alcohol was an easy answer for “What is there to do?” That “easy” answer often turns into something hard for all of us to bear. We’ve had enough of that. It’s time to redeem this next generation. Who’s up for the task?

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The Old Paths: A Manic March

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News on March 21, 2013. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish in my blog all of my columns that once appeared in the newspaper. I have updated this column to reflect life in 2016.

March--hello--spring

I have always told people that June was my favorite month. Yes, yes, I’m biased because June is my birth month. But I’m wondering if I might have to change my favorite month to March. With the madness of March, you wouldn’t think it appeals to me, but it does.

March madnessThe term “March Madness” is technically a reference to the intensity of the NCAA basketball tournament and the conference tournaments that lead into it.
But the phrase also pretty much sums up my life in March for the past several years.

In fact, this year’s March is downright manic. There is so much going on that you barely have time to breathe and sit a spell. (You, too, huh?)

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Easter comes in March this year. Most of us identify Easter with April, but every so often it hits in late March. That makes for a much busier month.

Add to that the fact that it’s time for my hubster’s adult baseball team to start practicing. Since my son is now on that team—having graduated from high school baseball—you will probably find me headed to practices as I did on the old paths of his childhood baseball career. Opening Day of the season is in early April, so March is preparation month. (My sportswriter friend Dennis says the sanctity of the first day of the Major League Baseball season demands proper-noun-like capital letters: Opening Day. I have taken the liberty of using the caps for my family’s season-opener as well.)

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My son Elijah batting for the Twins adult baseball team in 2015.

Let’s throw something else into the mix—Daylight Saving Time. On the old paths, DST started the first Sunday in April. But the U.S. government passed an energy bill in 2005 which changed all of that. Since 2007, DST has begun the second Sunday in March.

That may not seem like such a big deal, but since it takes a few weeks for most people to physically acclimate to the time change, it is an especially huge deal this year with such a busy March. Many of us may feel draggy, blah, sleepy, even sick once we spring forward on March 13. Yes, our bodies’ circadian rhythms are so delicate that a mere hour’s change affects us in myriad ways—even resulting in more heart attacks and auto accidents the first few weeks after the time change. (Let’s don’t claim that—okay?)DST--Frodo

So just when we need that extra energy—to start running the kids to baseball, softball and soccer practices; to fill out our tournament brackets and get pumped over “one-and-done” basketball games; to start dying ye old Easter eggs and plan the family Easter gathering—we are zapped, slammed, run over by a time truck that took an hour of our sleep.

But lest we become despondent, let’s look at the joy that is March. The energy-sapping time change has given us more time in the evening after work to throw ball with the kids, start tilling up the garden spot, sit out on the porch and feast our eyes on the forsythia.

Then there’s St. Patrick’s Day—a holiday I am particularly partial to, given my love for Ireland and for St. Patrick, that phenomenal man of God who evangelized the Emerald Isle. We don the springlike green clothing and playfully pinch party-poopers who refuse the wearin’ o’ the green. We eat corned beef and cabbage followed by doughnuts or cookies decorated with green icing. Some drink green beer and Irish dance in parades and Celtic festivals.

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My kids and I at our 2014 March 4-H meeting!

And if that’s not enough joy for you, there’s that most excellent and bodacious day of the year—the vernal equinox. Before you wrinkle your brow, let’s put it in simpler terms—THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING!

I would lobby to make this a government holiday and give everyone the day off. We should celebrate the day we cross the line into more light than darkness. “Equinox” is the word for the day of the year that the periods of daylight and dark are equal. “Ver” is the Latin word for spring, so we arrive at the “vernal equinox” when hours of light begin to outnumber the dark…..until the autumnal equinox in September.Spring--1st day

We should all wake up rejoicing on this day—the cold winter has ended, buds are sighted on the trees, early flowers are blooming, days are steadily warmer on the average. We need a day off to drink in this nectar of nature’s new life, to sip this ambrosia of nodding yellow daffodils and cheerful red tulips, to lap up every last morsel of morning birdsong and evening peeper sounds from the creek.

Who’s with me? Let’s march on Washington! (It’d be nice to see the cherry blossoms anyway, wouldn’t it?)

And this year, we get the added bonus of Easter in this manic month of March—a celebration of spiritual resurrection paralleling nature’s resurrection. In the midst of it all, we figuratively hold our breaths for the beauty that is to come: azaleas, redbud trees, dogwoods, lilacs and more. No wonder I have spring fever all winter long!

Yep, March is closing in on June as my favorite month. I could do without the chilly gales and blustery breezes, but there’s much else to be thankful for.DSCN2611

I have always said spring is such an evanescent and fleeting season that we must savor every second of it before it’s gone. The British poet A. E. Housman was only 20 when he realized the poignancy of how quickly spring is past. He penned a poem called “Loveliest of Trees” in which he speculated that he may only have 50 years of life left. And so he wrote:

“And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.”

No matter how busy this manic March finds you—watching basketball, perfecting the Easter cantata, practicing baseball—don’t forget to get out into the woods and imbibe the essence of spring before it’s gone.DSCN2609

The Old Paths: Fight the Winter Blahs

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News on February 28, 2008. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish in my blog all of my columns that once appeared in the newspaper. Although much of this info is dated by now, there are still universal truths to be gained by reading it.

winter blahsIf you’re like me, you’re starting to notice the days getting longer and some daffodils prematurely pushing up through February’s hard ground. I actually saw a bird taking a bath in my birdbath today and nearly freaked out; I’ve never seen one do that in the 14 years we’ve lived here! And when I parked behind London Elementary School a few evenings ago, I heard croaking down at the creek—do they call them “peepers” maybe? The sound made me long for spring which is indeed right around the corner. Signs everywhere are pointing to my favorite season!

But until then I’m still working my way through the winter blahs. I’ve found some great ways to beat them. “American Idol” came back on in January, and that sure has helped. (I agree with those of you who say there is to be no idol before God, so yes, the title of that show bothers me. However, my family and I enjoy hearing excellent singing and critiquing below-par singing!)

A friend of mine declared vehemently in the fall that he would NOT watch such a cheesy show as “American Idol,” but I’ve heard he’s on the couch every Tuesday and Wednesday night as he boos Simon or agrees with Paula and Randy. He even headed up a “Fantasy Idol” draft. I’m quite impressed with the labor he went to—cutting out pictures of the Top 24 and working out an elaborate point system. My fantasy football season may have gone sour, but so far, I’m at the top of the leader board in the “American Idol” league! (Eat your heart out, Stokes News employees who beat me at Fantasy Football!)

My favorite-ever "American Idol" David Cook was on the show in 2008 when this column was originally published.

My favorite-ever “American Idol” David Cook was on the show in 2008 when this column was originally published.

Another excellent way of beating the late winter blahs is to have friends and/or family TV sessions to watch ACC basketball. It’s not quite as much fun as the World Series or football season was in my den, but it’s much better than watching “The Weather Channel” 24/7. (Then again, maybe not. How I love that weather stuff!) Somehow I have failed in my job as a mother—the fruit of my labors having produced two Carolina fans. It makes for interesting times when the Duke or NC State fans in our family get riled up. It’s a pretty even split around here.

However, my favorite way to attack those winter blahs is to get out into the community and be active. I enjoyed seeing so many of you at the South Stokes basketball games. And I must confess I was always disappointed during the varsity games. That gym should’ve been packed out instead of half-empty!

“I don’t have anyone playing on the teams,” you may say. Neither did I. Neither did Margie Dunlap or Carol Wiles. Horace and Brenda Boles stayed long after their granddaughter finished playing. Don and Nancy Lester could be counted on to hang around way past the time their relative played. The point is that it was great fun to watch, whether or not you had anyone playing. The sense of community unity was heartening as all races, creeds and genders pulled together for the common goal—a Saura victory.

For many years, my kids and I missed very few ballgames at my alma mater, South Stokes High!

For many years, my kids and I missed very few ballgames at my alma mater, South Stokes High!

Remember the days of Kenny Dennard when there was standing room only in the gym? They tell me the whole town came out to watch on the old paths of the 1920’s and ’30’s when the likes of my grandmother, Reny Richardson Smith, led Walnut Cove High School to victory. Athletics has always been a great common denominator for the varied types of people who inhabit our town and county. I encourage you to come out to watch your local teams whether or not you have a vested interest. You’ll find someone you know there in the bleachers, you’ll see some kid playing that you recognize and you’ll find that the winter blahs are lost in the cries of “Defense!” or “Let’s go, Sauras!”

I found the same camaraderie in London Gym this winter. How encouraged I was to be forced to stand at the door one night last week because the bleachers were jam-packed full! All to watch eight- and nine-year-olds play. That’s the spirit!

Even the little kids' games are exciting at London Gym! And it's free until tournament time.

Even the little kids’ games are exciting at London Gym! And it’s free until tournament time.

These kids are the future of our town, our county, our world. Watching them learn to play as a team, to be gracious in victory or loss, to compete with as much determination as Alan Iverson or Tim Duncan—this warms the heart, chasing away winter’s chill. And I doubt Iverson or Duncan goes running into Grandma’s arms after the game or high-fives Grandpa to be congratulated on the lay-up that finally went in! I’d rather be in London Gym during tournament week than at an NBA arena.

And it's not just boys. Girls play, too!

And it’s not just boys. Girls play, too!

I sat in that gym a lot this winter, often contemplating its rich history. I thought of the marvelous teams London High School must have had back in the day. Not discounting those incredible teams I have heard tell of, I was nonetheless encouraged now to see children of all races playing together on that floor. What a different world our children are growing up in—not perfect by any means, but coming along slowly but surely in the area of race relations.

Yes, I still get a chill when I hear the part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech that says, “I have a dream that one day. . .little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Perhaps I am privileged enough to be able to see the dawning of that day, even on basketball courts in crowded gyms.

Children of different races play together at London Gym—something that would have been unheard of even 50 years ago.

Children of different races play together at London Gym—something that would have been unheard of even 50 years ago.

So how are your winter blahs now? Mine are rapidly disappearing in the warmth of what I’ve experienced this winter. Next year, take my advice and experience community unity with me. Support the children who will one day be your doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, accountants, etc. Basketball may be almost over, but early season baseball is just around the bend. Put on your earmuffs and scarves, grab the blanket and get out of the house. You’ll soon find that the winter blahs are old news and that spring has sprung once more.

Tournament season in the Walnut Cove Youth Basketball League starts this coming Saturday, February 27, 2016. Come watch these kids play; I promise you won’t be disappointed. We had a nail-biter there just last night!

The Old Paths: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News in 2009. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish some of my best stories from my time as editor of that paper. Part I of this story can be accessed on another of my blog posts at this link: 

https://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/storing-up-stokes-memories-bob-carroll/

Me and Bob Carroll

Me with Bob Carroll at his 101st birthday party!

It has been nearly 80 years since the 1929 stock market crash that helped send this country reeling toward the pit of the Great Depression. Since then, we’ve heard talk of recessions and economic downturns, but the “D” word has been avoided. I’ve often wondered what would necessitate the use of it.

Some economists say a depression is a decline in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of more than 10 percent. For example, from 1929-1933, the GDP fell almost 33 percent. There was a bit of a recovery in the mid-‘30’s before another decline—this time only 18.2 percent—in the late ‘30’s. Since then, there has been nothing even close to that. Remember the big recession from 1973-75? The GDP only fell 4.9 percent during that period. Quite a difference from the Great Depression, huh?

The bad news is that the GDP fell 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 alone, after having already fallen lesser amounts in the earlier part of 2008. Many economists predict a further decline in the first half of 2009. It seems we are creeping closer to that dreaded “D” word.

Talking to Stokes County residents who lived through the Great Depression has been eye-opening for me. Most of them agree that the biggest difference between that generation and the present one is the fact that the majority of them knew how to be self-sufficient. As a whole, we have lost that capability.

I’ve heard old-timers talk about being forced to shoot songbirds for food. Rabbits and squirrels were diet staples. Bob Carroll, age 101, told me about eating “possum,” which he stills remembers as a rather distasteful, unpleasant experience. Truth is, if I were left alone without my male relatives who know how to hunt and fish, I would probably starve. I guess I could trap an opossum if need be–they sure show up on my porch often enough to try to eat my cat food–but shooting a bird might be a fiasco for me.

I’ve grown my own garden before, buying my seeds at local stores. What would I do if those seeds were not available? I so desire to learn how to save my own seeds. The predominance of hybrid seeds scares me. We have been lulled into a trap that convinces us to buy new seeds each year, since hybrid seeds don’t reproduce themselves.

Carroll told me of men in the ‘30’s who would hustle all day to sell apples for a nickel, just to put food on their families’ tables. Do we still have that same work ethic—we who have become inured to sitting at desks or working at lucrative factory jobs? Men of Carroll’s generation were willing to walk barefoot from King to Charlotte to be first in line for a rumored job.

That nickel they sold an apple for would buy enough beans to keep them alive for a day. Would that work for Americans who are used to eating sumptuous meals at restaurants nearly daily, or who, even if eating at home, have grown accustomed to marinated chicken breasts, broiled steaks or at least frozen pizza?

Carroll says Depression-era families went back to the farms—“not to make a living but to live.” Where are we going back to? The family farm is, as a rule, a thing of the past. My daddy has my grandpa’s farm. Since I live next door, I suppose Daddy would let me help him grow enough food for my large family, if need be. But most people don’t have land to go back to.

Unemployment for us has come to mean checks from the government to help us along, as we put in a couple of applications per week. The unemployed father of seven in the Great Depression era had no such checks. If you were unemployed, you had to scramble to eat. This made for a tougher people, in my opinion.

“I’m very pessimistic about the future,” Carroll commented on the state of the nation, adding that the high prices of commodities and growing unemployment worry him. He says that the difference between now and then is that a dollar went farther in the ‘30’s.

Carroll still remembers the hope that came when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought in the “New Deal” in 1932. He credits FDR’s ideas with being the key to the economic turnaround. Crop control measures allotted only so much tobacco, cotton and peanuts to growers. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) brought community work; Carroll cites the example of WPA workers adding to the courthouse in Danbury. He remembers the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) building the bathhouse at Hanging Rock State Park.

Today’s situation is somewhat similar in the sense that we have a new President with new ideas—reminiscent of FDR and his New Deal. “Obama’s touched on it,” Carroll speaks optimistically of the new President’s plans. He believes that already our Commander-in-Chief has made progress by limiting the sumptuous incomes of some: “He’s kinda on the right track. I’m extremely interested in the political situation in this country.”

As to the common perception that people tend to fall back on religion when times get hard, Carroll believes that is true “to some extent but not so much as you might think.” He philosophizes: “I’ve thought so much about it. When you are hungry, would you rather someone say they’ll pray for you or give you a bowl of beans?”

Going even further back in memory, Carroll remembers how Americans united during World War I. Although there weren’t the widespread rations as in World War II, still the country rallied to conserve. The government suggested that people observe three types of days each week—wheatless, meatless and sweetless.

By law, if a family wanted to buy 100 pounds of flour, they had to buy 100 pounds of cornmeal—an equal ratio of both, for conservation purposes. Carroll admits, “I never have liked cornbread much since I had to eat it so much back then,” yet he still did his part to support his country’s efforts to get back on the right track.

If we are entering similar days again, we may be called upon to do our part, whatever that may be. I hope you’ll join me, even if it means sacrifice. Just as great events bind us in unity, so do hard times often knit us together.

I read an email this week that said, “Due to recent budget cuts and the rising cost of electricity, gas and oil, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.” Although it was meant to be humorous, it was based on what many perceive to be true. Don’t fall for it; there IS light at the end of the tunnel. Keep your head up until you get there, and I’ll try to do the same. Give me your hand, and let’s walk it out together.

**Robert “Bob” Carroll, passed from this life on Tuesday afternoon, Mar. 6, 2012, just a little over a month after he celebrated his 104th birthday. The cause of death is listed as complications of pneumonia.

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